CDC: MRIs, other medical scans in ER quadruple

Feb 17, 2010

(AP) -- The use of high-tech diagnostic imaging in emergency rooms has quadrupled since the mid-1990s, according to a new government report released Wednesday.

MRI, CT or PET scans were done or ordered in 14 percent of ER visits in 2007, the report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found. That's four times as often as in 1996.

The frequency of the medical scans nearly tripled at doctor offices and outpatient clinics, to about 3 percent.

There are more and better scanning machines available today than in the 1990s, the report's authors noted. The scans provide a much clearer picture of problems inside the body than was available in the past, experts said.

But health officials and others worry about the safety and cost of all that scanning.

"I wish I had an answer as to whether that's great news or bad news," Dr. Rita Redberg, a cardiologist at the University of California, San Francisco, said of the increased use. Redberg, who has written about safety concerns of using CT scans, called the new statistics "astounding."

Without firm guidelines as to when the scans are medically necessary, it's hard to say whether the increased use is excessive, Redberg and others said.

The CDC's National Center for Health Statistics reported the numbers in its annual summary of U.S. data on disease conditions, health behaviors and use of medical services. The scan figures are based on visits to roughly 500 hospitals and 3,000 doctor's offices and outpatient clinics.

Researchers counted three kinds of scans: MRIs, or magnetic resonance imaging, which use powerful magnets and radio waves, CT scans, or computed tomography, which combine X-rays with sophisticated computers, and PET scans, or positron-emission tomography, which use X-rays and a radioactive substance.

Doctors started using the devices in the 1970s but the technology has dramatically improved, said Amy Bernstein, director of the team who put together the CDC report.

The number of machines has grown, too. In 2006, there were nearly 8,000 MRI machines, twice as many as in 1995, the CDC reported. The number of CT scanners jumped 20 percent in three years, to more than 10,100 in 2006.

The scans are expensive - a single CT scan can cost $500 to $1,000, and MRIs and PET scans can be much more expensive. The federal Medicare program has been trying to hold down imaging costs since its annual bill reached $12 billion.

Studies have not yet clearly demonstrated that the scans are lowering death rates, said Redberg, who is editor of the Archives of Internal Medicine.

"There's a question of whether we're getting our money's worth," said Dr. Linda Fried, dean of Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health, in New York.

There also is concern about radiation from CT and PET scanners. Each CT scan is equivalent to 30 to 442 chest X-rays, and one recent study in her medical journal suggested that the CT scans ordered by doctors each year could lead to thousands of added cancer deaths in the decades to come, Redberg noted.

Explore further: Informal child care significantly impacts rural economies, study finds

More information: CDC report: http://www.cdc.gov/nchs

4.5 /5 (2 votes)
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

MRI/PET scanner combo

Mar 07, 2008

Two kinds of body imaging -- positron emission tomography (PET) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) -- have been combined for the first time in a single scanner.

CDC: Fido and Fluffy behind 86,000 falls a year

Mar 26, 2009

(AP) -- Watch out for Fluffy and Fido! Cats and dogs are a factor in more than 86,000 serious falls each year, according to the first government study of pet-related tumbles.

CT scans to determine heart disease in the emergency room

Nov 27, 2007

In the future, patients who arrive at a hospital Emergency Department complaining of chest pain may be diagnosed with a sophisticated CT scan. If the diagnosis is negative, the patient can go home—and the total time at ...

Imaging experts perform cardiac scans by remote control

Oct 24, 2006

UCLA radiologists and Siemens Medical Solutions have developed remote-control software that enables an off-site imaging expert to operate a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machine via the Internet. Reported in the November ...

Recommended for you

Preterm children's brains can catch up years later

15 hours ago

There's some good news for parents of preterm babies – latest research from the University of Adelaide shows that by the time they become teenagers, the brains of many preterm children can perform almost as well as those ...

Mortality rates increase due to extreme heat and cold

15 hours ago

Epidemiological studies have repeatedly shown that death rates rise in association with extremely hot weather. The heat wave in Western Europe in the summer of 2003, for example, resulted in about 22,000 extra deaths. A team ...

User comments : 0